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Jungle Initiation in the Talamanca Mountains

This winter I spent 9 weeks in Costa Rica living on plant medicine farms. The first 2 weeks we spent in the Indigenous Reserve of the BriBri peoples. It was a 30 minute walk into the forest by foot and our host took our bags on his horse. We walked on a thin path through the jungle of the Talamanca mountains up and down steep hills and over streams. I was soaked in sweat and did not recognize any plants until we reached out hosts garden. It was very humbling to feel this way. They drank from the river and have created an off-grid simple homestead.

We volunteered at this small farm and slept in a tent on a platform beneath a palm thatched roof. I was initiated into the world of biting ants. They were everywhere! Some were the size of Mr.Meows! Leaf cutters, tiny microscopic ones, termites, bullet ants, and many more. I wondered why bullet ants are called that. I was told when you know you know. One night while walking to my tent I felt like I was shot in my foot. I screamed and saw a big black ant! I quickly remembered to pee on my foot. After 1.5 hours the numbness subsided and I could sleep.

I learned about Mucuna beans and their itchy hair which gave my feet contact dermatitis. I tried every plant available to decrease the the itchy blisters. Fresh cow dung applied to blisters and I was the number one relief remedy. The Senna Alata leaves helped as well and made my feet green. Once you cover your feet and ankles in fresh cow dung hundreds of flying insects covered the cow dung area. No biting or stinging... simply observing my stink! I sat beside in a patch of Mimosa Pudica the sensitive fern and enjoyed the relief. Cow dung or clay was not an ideal solution for the evenings in bed because the ants smelled me and came into our tent through the many holes to find the treat. There is so much to say about this experience and I am grateful to all of the teachings.


Over our time at this beautiful space we met the cotton plant in person which grows a perennial! We ate tepesquinte a wild small animal that lives on mostly fruit. There were giant orange spiders, and gorgeous luminous birds. Giant bats flew over us, we rested in the 6 hour siestas. We took cool river dips, ate fresh guanabana which I know as soursop. It is green spiky fruit that has sweet soft soppy flesh with dark seeds in each segment. We fed lemons to the cows, and picked the mild water apples which have the most gorgeous hot pink blossoms. My partner helped milk the cows and we saw their version of making fresh cheese. Dinner was flattened plantains fried until hard with rice, rice, rice, and beans, and more beans. Sometimes a big chunk of meat with very fatty pieces. The kids would break open the bones to suck out the marrow. It was very strange to be in the jungle and see everyone on cell phones. I reread Mark J. Plotkins book Tales of a Shamans Apprentice which was written before I was born and even then the Indigenous people were being Christianized and losing their culture. Due to his efforts the BriBri people still have some of their medicine peoples.

Pictured below are the gorgeous mountains, cows (note the long ears for the heat tolerance) soap berries & flowers in my hand. We used the leaves as toilet paper. Cacao fruits and the lipstick plant with red colour were are favourite new friends.

As I settle again here on Ontario lands I am in integration of the places places and events of the past months. I have many more stories to share. I will add one chapter about Costa Rica into my book.

 Thanks for taking the time to read some adventure stories. I hope you join me this year.

In love and service to the plants.

Julie Gaia

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